The Priestly Garments of the High Priest & Ordinary Priests
"And draw near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to me in the priest's office; Aaron, Nadav, and Avihu, Elazar, and Itamar, the sons of Aaron. And you shall make sacred garments for Aaron your brother, for honor and for beauty. And you shall speak to all who are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's garments to consec
rate him, that he may minister to me in the priest's office. And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a quilted undercoat, a mitre, and a girdle; and they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, and his sons, that he may minister to me in the priest's office ... " (Exodus 28:1-4)
Moshe was instructed by G-d that the garments of the priests were to be both dignified and beautiful; as precious as the garments of royalty. Indeed, the Talmud informs us that when the wicked Persian king Ahasuerus made a feast for his advisors and officers and sought to impress them with his greatness (as recorded in the scroll of Esther, which tells the story of Purim) he put off his own royal vestments and donned the uniform of the High Priest... which was more precious than his own. These priestly garments were in his possession since the First Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians.
Understanding Life in the Holy Temple
It is noteworthy and revealing that one of the finest ways to gain insight into both the details of life in the Holy Temple, and to its inner spirit, is by a study of the priestly garments.
We shall see that these garments are essential in order for the priests to function in their sacred capacity; so much so that in their absence, the offerings made by the priests in the Temple have no validity! Without his uniform, the priest who serves in the Holy Temple is considered like a "stranger" serving before the L-rd - like an ordinary non-priest. What, then, is the basis for the garments' powerful significance?
The Garments Possess An Intrinsic Holiness
No priest, neither lay nor the High Priest himself, is fit to serve in the Temple unless he is wearing the sacred garments. As the Talmud states, "While they are clothed in the priestly garments, they are clothed in the priesthood; but when they are not wearing the garments, the priesthood is not upon them" (BT Zevachim 17:B). Conducting the service without these garments would render the priests the same as those who are not descendants of Aharon - all of whom are unfit for service in the Temple.
Why does the Bible attach so much significance to the garments? Because their quality is such that they elevate the wearers - Aharon and all his descendants - to the high levels of sanctity required from those who come to serve before G-d in the holy place. These garments themselves possess a certain holiness; powerful enough to sanctify all those who merely come in contact with them, as we read in the prophets: "... so as not to hallow the people with their garments" (Ezekiel 44:19).
Actually, the Hebrew expression which we are translating as "sacred" or "holy" garments also means "garments of the Temple;" that is, the garments themselves show that their wearers are standing in the Divine service.
The Garments Atone for Sins
Another important quality of the priestly garments is that their very presence, worn by the kohanim during the Temple service, serves to atone for the sins of Israel. It is taught that just as the offerings facilitate an atonement for sin, so do the priestly garments. (BT Zevachim 88:B)
This is one of the deeper aims of wearing these garments, and something for the kohen to ponder while they are upon him. For his everyday actions in the Temple transcend his own personal idiom and take on a more universal theme... he makes atonement and spiritual rectification for all humanity.
Thus we are taught:
- The tunic, which covers most of the priest's body, atones for killing.
- The pants atone for sexual transgressions.
- The turban, worn on the head, atone for haughtiness.
- The belt, wound about the body and worn over the heart, atones for "sins of the heart" - improper thoughts
- The breastplate atones for errors in judgment.
- The breastplate atones for errors in judgment.
- The ephod atones for idolatry.
- The robe atones for evil speech.
- The High Priest's crown atones for arrogance.
"For honor and for beauty"
The rabbis established that G-d's command for the priestly garments to be "for honor and for beauty" teach us that they must be new and dignified. If the garments were soiled, stained, or ripped, the priests may not conduct the service while wearing them - and if they did, the service would be invalid.
Another aspect of "honor and beauty" means that the uniform must fit each fit perfectly. It was forbidden for the pants, for example, to be too long or too short. The garments were made to order for each priest, tailored to fit his measurements exactly.
This tells us something of the tremendous work force needed to turn out these garments in such quantities that every kohen in Israel could be supplied with his own garments. As we shall learn with regard to the incense offering, there were so many kohanim available for duty in the Holy Temple that no kohen ever offered the daily incense service more than once in his lifetime, and it was offered twice daily for many hundreds of years! Yet each had his own garments.
The Garments Were Not Washed
Furthermore, although the kohanim were extremely neat, just as they were diligent and careful - still, they were working with the sacrifices. Any garment which became soiled to the extent that its stains could not be removed, those garments were not washed. When they became disqualified from use in this manner, they were shredded and used to fulfill another of the Creator's commandments! The tunics were used to make wicks for the menorah, and the belts and pants, wicks for the oil lamps of the Festival of the Water Libation which took place in the Women's Court during the Festival of Sukkot. This applies only to the garments of the ordinary kohanim, of which there were a great many. When the High Priest's (Kohen Gadol) uniform became unusable through wear and tear, it was not destroyed, but hidden away so that no other man could ever wear it.
The Production of the Garments
"And you shall speak to all who are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aharon's garments to consecrate him, that he may minister to me in the kohen's office." (Ex 28:3)
Aside from the fact that the priestly garments must be made "for honor and for beauty," the above verse also instructs us that they must be made with wisdom and understanding... for they must be produced in exact accordance with all the nuances of the Biblical requirements.
Furthermore, they must be made with a special intention in mind - namely, that they are being created for the sake of fulfilling G-d's commandment.
The priestly garments are not sewn, like other clothes. Each item is woven, seamless, of one piece. The only exception to this is the sleeves of the robe, which are woven separately and sewn onto the robe afterwards.
The Three Categories of Priestly Garments
There are three separate categories of priestly garments:
- The High Priest's uniform, which he wears all year round. These consist of eight garments, called the "golden garments."
- The clothing worn by the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) on the Day of Atonement. These are four garments called the "white garments."
- The uniform of the ordinary priests, consisting of four garments.
The Golden Garments
The eight garments worn by the High Priest all year round are as follows:
The ephod, breastplate, robe, tunic, turban, belt, crown, and pants.
These are the garments described in these verses: "And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe and a tunic of checkered pattern, a turban and a belt. And they shall make the sacred garments for your brother Aharon and his sons, to serve me." (Ex. 28:4)
"And you shall make a crown of pure gold" (ibid. 36). "And make for them linen pants." (ibid. 42).
The White Garments
With regard to the High Priest's service on the Day of Atonement the Torah states: "He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and he shall have the linen pants upon his flesh, and he shall be girded with a linen belt, and with the linen turban he shall be attired." (Lev. 16:4)
The four garments worn by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement are the tunic, pants, the turban and the belt. These garments are made from white flax; hence their designation "the white garments." They must be woven, as mentioned above, and each thread used must be six-ply - woven from six individual strands of fabric.
The High Priest had two tunics which he wore on the Day of Atonement. One-he wore in the morning, and the other at the evening.
After the conclusion of the Day of Atonement, he will never again wear the white garments in which he officiated on this day. They are hidden in the place where he removes them, as the verse indicates "And Ah
aron shall come into the Tent of Meeting, and he shall take off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and he shall leave them there." (ibid. v. 23)
The Uniform of the Ordinary Priests
The ordinary priests wear four garments all year round-these are the same as the "white garments" worn by the Kohen Gadol on the Day of Atonement: tunic, pants, hat, and belt. Referring to these priests, the verse states "And for Aharon's sons you shall make for them tunics, and you shall make for them belts, and you shall make for them hats... and make for them linen pants... " (Ex. 28:40-42). These garment are to be made from flax, and they too must be created from threads consisting of six individual strands.
Five Components in the Garments
Five different materials were used to create the priestly garments:
- techelet, sky-blue wool
- dark-red wool
- crimson wool
- twisted linen
The gold was beaten into thin sheets, and then cut into fine threads. The techelet sky-blue color (said by the Talmud to resemble indigo - BT Menachot 42:B) was a dye obtained from an aquatic invertebrate known as chilazon. The exact identification of this animal, and the method used to produce the dye, is the subject of extensive research. While various attempts have been made to conclusively identify the chilazon, most recently it has been classified to the Mediterranean snail known as murex trunculus.
The dark-red color (said by some to more closely resemble purple), argaman in Hebrew, is also derived from a snail; possibly the murex trunculus as well. According to this theory, the difference in color is a product of the amount of time
the substance is initially exposed to sunlight.
The crimson color is produced from a worm ca
lled by the Bible the "crimson worm," tola'at shani in Hebrew, a mountain worm which has been identified as kermes biblicus, the cochineal insect.
The Hebrew word which appears here for "linen" is shesh, which literally means "six." This indicates that each thread used in these garments is required to be a six-ply linen thread.
Some of the garments were composed of all five ingredients; some contained three or four; some contained only one.
After waving the Omer at the northeast corner of the altar, the kohen presented the first grain offering before the southwest corner of the altar. This was standard procedure for nearly all meal-offerings.
Following the conclusion of the Omer offering in the courtyard of the Holy Temple, pilgrims leaving the Temple would find the marketplaces of Jerusalem already overflowing with grain products from the new harvest.